The devastating and heartbreaking tragedy of the Lahaina wildfire in Maui has been a dark blemish on the otherwise beautiful Hawaiian island. Since the wildfire broke out, over a thousand people are now missing, with almost a thousand having been found dead.
The story of the wildfire is one tragedy, but the larger tragedy is what it reveals about the myriad government failures that ultimately led to the worst wildfire in American history.
What started as an enormous distraction from the global warming narrative has quickly morphed into scrutiny of the government agencies responsible for overseeing the wildfire at the state, as well as the local level. The changing tones in the media coverage suggest the larger causal story is more complex than previously believed, yet the impacts of negligence and unpreparedness in the wake of the fire remain ever-present.
The Maui Power Company has long been referenced as the source of the wildfire. Poorly maintained power lines which were dangerously close to invasive grasses are thought to have sparked the flames. The power company is said to have known about the lines and the potential risk of wildfire, yet slow-walked remediation.
Questions have been raised about the response, especially at the state and local levels. Residents have been outspoken in expressing their dissatisfaction with the government response, with many citing that relief has been slow and distributions of assistance have been spottily administered.
Furthermore, the official entrusted with emergency response, a local politician with no experience in emergency management, resigned soon after due to his lack of preparedness and stressing the long-standing contentious issue of battling wildfires in Maui.
The biggest shock factor of the tragedy was the lack of warning to Lahaina residents. Sirens were not sounded, and by the time the emergency text system was activated, cell phone service was already out in most parts of the town. Citizens instead had to rely on their own eyes and saw the flames speeding toward them far too late. This in combination with the delayed water support from the local government has been deemed as a contributing factor to the tragic death count.
This negligence has unfortunately bred numerous conspiracy theories about the true depth of the tragedy and why it was allowed to happen, with many claiming a discrepancy in helping the wealthy versus the poorer class of residents. While these theories remain unsubstantiated, the lack of transparency and vague words offered by state and federal governments speak for themselves.
The chain of blunders goes far beyond what has been said here, but at least one thing is certain – government officials have failed to act with humility and have used every branch of government to protect their own interests. We can only hope this horrific event serves as a lesson for all government officials and that it does not happen again.
What happened to Lahaina is a tragedy. Thousands still missing, including children.
Everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong. Sirens didn’t go off, water that could’ve been used to put out the flames was restricted, and power lines kept operating despite the danger posed… pic.twitter.com/LHAtKUEnxq
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) August 21, 2023